Tripura High Court: Arindam Lodh, J., dismissed a petition which was filed by the petitioner to resolve her grievance in consonance with the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
The petitioner was posted at Indian Council of Agricultural Research Centre [ICAR] for North Eastern Hills Region, Tripura Centre and during her service she had submitted a complaint on 05-12-2018 alleging sexual harassment as contemplated under Section 9 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 [Act of 2013]. After which internal complaints committee had submitted its report where the committee had exonerated the respondent 6. The petitioner then had preferred an appeal against the said recommendation by the committee under Section 18(1) of the Act of 2013. Since the said statutory appeal is still not disposed off, the petitioner had approached this court by way of invoking the jurisdiction of this court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.
Mr B. Majumder, Assistant S.G., counsel for the respondent had raised a preliminary objection in regard to the jurisdiction of this court to grant the reliefs as sought for by the petitioner. He had contended that the grievances of the petitioner related to “service matters” and in view of notification under Section 14(2) of the A.T. Act, the appropriate forum was the CAT being the court of first instance for the purpose of adjudication of disputes relating to “service matters”.
The main argument of the counsel of the petitioner, Mr . Somik Deb and Mr S. Bhattacharjee on the question of maintainability was that the petitioner being aggrieved of the recommendation made by the Local Complaints Committee had preferred an appeal and since the appeal was not disposed off for a considerable period of time, the petitioner approached this court for a direction upon the concerned respondents to dispose of the appeal within a certain period of time. However, it was noticed that at prayer 2 of the writ petition, the petitioner had sought for a direction upon the appellate authority to accept the additional ground on the report of the External Committee. He further contended that that subject of sexual harassment has not been included in the definition of “service matters” as contemplated under Section 3(q) of the A.T.Act, 1985.
The Court opined that Section 11 of the Act of 2013 makes it clear that where the ‘respondent’ is an employee and the Internal Committee or the Local Committee proceeds to make inquiry into the complaint, it will be an inquiry in accordance with the provisions of service rules. Thus, the intention of the legislature was to make an inquiry into the complaint in accordance with the provisions of the service rules. The proceedings undertaken by the Internal Complaints Committee of the respondent No.2 and the reports of the Committee thereof [Annexure 5 to the writ petition], on the face of it reveals that the Committee has taken into account the service rules i.e. CCS (CCA) Rules and CCS (Conduct) Rules. Section 19(i) of the Act of 2013 makes it clear that the employer is duty bound to treat sexual harassment as a ‘misconduct’ under the service rule and initiate action for such ‘misconduct’. Section 13(2) further makes it clear that where the Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be arrives at a conclusion that the allegation against the respondent has not been proved, it shall recommend to the employer that no action is required to be taken in the matter.
The Court found that the bare perusal of the Section 14 of the CAT makes it abundantly clear that all “service matters” pertaining to service in connection with the affairs of the Union can be decided by the Tribunal.
The Court while dismissing the petition held that internal inquiry as initiated on the basis of the complaint of the petitioner falls within the ambit of the definitions of “service matters”. Thus, in the conscious consideration of this court, the Tribunal will have jurisdiction to decide the said aspect. The Court quoted the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court in L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India, (1997) 3 SCC 261 where it was held that Tribunal is the court of first instance and it will not be open for the litigant to approach the High Court as a court of first instance (Para 93).
The court explained that the grievance of the petitioner falls within the ambit of “disciplinary matters” which is inclusive of the definition of “service matters” as contemplated under Section 3(q) of the A.T.Act,1985.
[Rekha Das v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Tri 274, decided on 17-05-2021]
Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this report together